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Our Favorite Restaurants in Mérida

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During our 91 days in the Yucatán, we spent a lot of time on the road. So whenever we were in Mérida, we tried to cook healthy meals and eat at home. Too many Mexican restaurants turn Mike and Jürgen into pudgy boys. Despite our best efforts, though, we couldn’t resist visiting a good percentage of Mérida’s eating establishments. Here are some of our favorites; not necessarily the city’s “top-rated” restaurants, but for one reason or another, the ones we most enjoyed.

Restaurant Tips Merida
Chaya Maya

If you’re looking for a classy place to try some classic Yucatecan cuisine, look no further than the Chaya Maya. This restaurant is a Mérida institution, with waitresses dressed in huipiles and even a woman at the entrance hand-forming the tortillas that will soon be on your table. The prices are reasonable and the food is fantastic, especially the sopa de lima and poc-chuc. There are two branches of Chaya Maya near each other, but we preferred the one on C/ 55, near the Plaza de Santa Lucia. [Location]

El Tucho

A raucous restaurant found a block away from the Plaza Grande, our initial visit to El Tucho was quite a surprise. I don’t know what we had been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this crowded hall with a band wailing away on stage. It was initially overwhelming and we almost left immediately, but I’m glad we didn’t. The food was good and, with each beer, the music sounded better. Plus, our ebullient waiter just kept on bringing out free tapas. If you don’t mind noise, head here for a fun meal in an authentically Yucatecan setting. [Location]

Bio Restaurant Cura-Kit

Here’s a restaurant that I can almost guarantee won’t appear in your guidebook. We only decided to eat at the Bio-Restaurant Cura-Kit (on C/ 48 and 71, adjacent to El Arco Hotel) because it was so close to our house. As luck would have it, it turned out to be one of our very favorites. They have daily specials at great prices, just 50 pesos for a huge plate, with a drink included. We especially liked eating here on Mondays, when the special was brochetas (chicken shish-kabobs). [Location]

La Vida Catarina

Found on C/ 60 between the Plaza Grande and Santa Lucia, La Vida Catarina was the restaurant in Mérida which we visited more than any other. It was our default; if we couldn’t be bothered to think of anything else, we knew we’d be happy here, safe inside its charming courtyard, with its daily drink specials, unobtrusive waitstaff and quiet music. Yes, quiet music! In Mexico! We came here over and over, and never could figure out why it wasn’t more crowded. [Location]

Salamanca Grill

Friends had recommended an Argentine grill called La Rueda, but when we showed up on a Monday afternoon, it was closed. A woman passing by on the street saw our looks of despair and recommended we try the nearby Salamanca Grill. Ma’am, on the off chance that you’re reading this… we thank you from the bottom of our stomachs. Our meal here was one of the best we had in Mérida. A small, dark restaurant with huge, mouthwatering steaks at prices that almost made me feel guilty. Perhaps La Rueda would have been just as good, but I can’t imagine it being better. [Location]

Restaurante Mary’s

We had walked by Restaurante Mary’s at least a dozen times, and always this cheap and simple cantina on C/ 63 was packed full with locals. That’s a good sign, and though we kept promising ourselves to check it out, we never did. Finally, on our last week in Mérida, we remembered Mary’s, and it was just as good as we suspected it would be. We’d eaten a lot of cheap, quick meals around the nearby Mercado de San Benito which weren’t bad, but none could compare in value or quality to this one. [Location]

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Restaurant Tips Merida
Restaurant Tips Merida
Restaurant Tips Merida
Restaurant Tips Merida
Restaurant Tips Merida
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February 15, 2014 at 10:29 pm Comments (3)

The Railway Museum of Mérida

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Once upon a time, the Yucatán had a popular and far-reaching network of passenger locomotives. Today, most of the train stations scattered across the peninsula are little more than ruins. Mérida’s, however, has been converted into a museum dedicated to the machines that once chugged through the jungles.

Train Museum Merida

If you’re a train fan, you’re going to love this museum, which asks for just a small donation on entry. And even if you’re not big on trains, you should still have a good time. The old locomotives are beautiful and you can climb into many of them. A couple have been refurbished, but most are still in their original, half-decrepit condition.

Unfortunately, the museum doesn’t provide information about any of the trains. So if you’re not the kind of person who can confidently tell a 4-4-0 locomotive from a 4-6-2, you’re not going to know what you’re looking at. But the photo opportunities are great and you don’t need special knowledge to enjoy exploring old trains. This museum will especially appeal to kids and, should you have any questions, the knowledgeable manager is usually around.

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Our Visit To The Train Cemetery In Bolivia

Train Museum Merida
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February 14, 2014 at 3:08 pm Comments (0)

Mérida’s Free Entertainment

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Of all the things Mérida has to offer — lovely plazas, great food, fascinating museums and friendly people — perhaps the best is its astounding cultural program. We’ve never lived in a city as dedicated to the arts, or as devoted to preserving its cultural heritage. Almost every night of the week, you can catch a free performance.

Free Concerts Merida

At the foot of Paseo Montejo, near the Plaza of Santa Ana, a stage is erected every Saturday night for the Noche Mexicana. You can sit here for hours tapping your feet along to the sounds, styles and dances of Mexico. There’s a constantly changing line-up, as singers and troupes from across the country are invited to participate.

On Thursday, head over to the Plaza de Santa Lucia for the weekly Serenata Yucateca. This is perhaps the best-known of Mérida’s free concerts, and has been inviting the peninsula’s most famous composers and musicians to the stage for the past forty years. The crowds arrive early, with the best spots being claimed an hour in advance.

On Monday evenings at 9pm, the Vaquería takes over the street in front of the Palacio Municipal. This colorful dance has its origins in the Yucatán’s colonial days. Once a year, villagers across the peninsula were permitted by the Spanish elite to celebrate a fiesta. The wives of the local cowboys (vaqueros) were in charge or organizing the festivities and would don their most elaborate dresses, before leading their husbands in the dance.

After watching all these concerts, you might feel like breaking out your own dancing shoes. In that case, head to the Plaza de Santiago on Tuesday night for the Remembranzas Musicales. Here, in one of Mérida’s most beautiful plazas, bands play the greatest hits of the Yucatán while hundreds of locals clasp hands and dance the night away.

These are just the main offerings on a city-sponsored cultural program so jam-packed that it almost beggars belief. It’s a good idea to head over to one of the city’s tourism offices to ask about the upcoming events (we prefer the office in the Palacio del Gobierno). Unless you’re a stick-in-the-mud, you’ll almost certainly find a show that interests you.

Property Management Merida

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February 13, 2014 at 8:36 pm Comments (0)

The Plazas of Mérida

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Though they’re beginning to blend together, Mérida is still largely defined by its neighborhoods, each with its own personality and history. Neighborhood life is almost always centered around a central plaza, where friends and family gather to meet, eat, chat, and just hang out. Here are five of our favorites.

Plaza de Santa Lucia

Just a couple blocks north of the Plaza Grande, Santa Lucia is the cultural heart of the city. Every Thursday night, you can grab a seat for a free traditional trova concert, but all throughout the week you’ll see people dancing, singing, playing guitar or doing Zumba on the stage which sits in the corner of the plaza, ringed by busts of famous Yucatecan artists. A couple of excellent restaurants fill out the plaza with tables in the courtyard. Apoala is one of our favorites, serving excellent modern Mexican cuisine. There’s no better way to spend a humid evening in Mérida, than sitting down for a margarita and watching whatever happens to be going on in the plaza. And there’s always something going on. [Location]

Plaza de San Cristóbal

Cristóbal was our “home” plaza, so although it hardly ranks as Mérida’s finest, it’s our favorite. Because it’s ours. That’s our laundromat, right between our office supply store and our habitual cheap-lunch station. Our laundry girl knows us collectively as “Miguel”. I am Miguel, Jürgen is Miguel, and together we are The Miguel. Over the course of 91 days, she’s become intimately familiar with every piece of clothing we own, and could easily pick our underwear out of a lineup. Oh that? That’s our church, not that we’ve ever attended a service. Whoa, who’s sitting on our bench? That’s alright, go ahead and enjoy yourself, we weren’t using it anyway. Ahh… we’re going to miss you, San Cristóbal (but you’ll always be ours!) [Location]

Plaza de San Juan

The Plaza de San Juan, found a few blocks southeast of the Plaza Grande, is perhaps best known for the ancient arch which once formed part of the barrier separating the city proper from the colonias of indigenous people. But in the early nineteenth century, under the direction of its liberal priest, the church of San Juan was the meeting spot for an enlightened group known as los Sanjuanistas, who fought against the Spanish Crown on behalf of the belabored Maya and creole populations. Continually persecuted by the landed elite and the clergy, los Sanjuanistas were prohibited from meeting and often tossed into jail. But in the end, they and their allies managed to achieve a brief period of Yucatecan independence. [Location]

Plaza de Santiago

The Plaza de Santiago is just as gorgeous and refined as the neighborhood surrounding it, which is perhaps Mérida’s most desirable. The plaza boasts a grand old church built in 1637, but it’s the modern life which most commands attention: the kids on the playground, the old men sitting around the fountain, and especially the bustling market with its range of excellent and super-affordable loncherías. This is Mérida at its most colonial and, unsurprisingly, the area most attractive to expats. [Location]

Plaza de Santa Ana

Although Santa Ana is found at the foot of the Paseo Montejo, it shares none of that boulevard’s ritzy atmosphere. This is a simple plaza and park with a beautiful little church, a popular market and a few places to grab some cheap eats. In the center of the plaza is a statue of Andrés Quintana Roo, one of the heroes of Mexican independence. And this was the scene of an important moment in Mexican history. In 1867, supporters of the ruling, royalist regime clashed with Mexican republicans loyal to Benito Juarez. The republicans earned a decisive victory, which helped bring the Napoleon-backed Mexican Empire to its eventual end. [Location]

Great Hotels In Mérida

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February 3, 2014 at 6:57 pm Comment (1)

The Legend of the Makech

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Jürgen and I aren’t the types to spend much time thinking about jewelry. Neither of us owns a single piece, not a ring nor a bracelet, and I very rarely notice the jewelry worn by others. But when the piece in question is a living beetle, it’s a little hard to ignore.

The Yucatan Makech

The Makech is the strangest fashion item we’ve ever seen. These large beetles, found only in the Yucatán Peninsula, have broad shells that can be decorated with gemstones. They feed on sporophores which grow on a specific type of wood endemic to the Yucatán, and can live for up to eight months. Attached to a golden chain, they’re worn as pendants by Maya women and kept as pets.

According to legend, a Maya princess was destined to marry the prince of a neighboring kingdom, but instead fell in love with a noble warrior from her own village. Enraged, her father announced his intention to kill the warrior. The fear-stricken young woman wailed, and pleaded with the king for the life of her beloved. If he were spared, she swore, she would willingly marry the prince as had originally been the plan.

The king listened to his sobbing daughter and consoled her. Her handsome warrior would live. And the promise was kept… in a way. A wizard was called in and, before the eyes of the court, turned the handsome young man into a wretched beetle. Horrified, the princess scooped him into her hands and ran off to her room. She adorned the beetle with the most beautiful jewels she could find and placed him on her breast, so he would always be near her heart.

The Makech is a custom on its way out. Today, it’s exceptionally rare to see women actually wearing one, and finding a store which sells them can be tricky. We asked around Mérida’s Mercado de Artesanias, on Calle 65/58, and eventually tracked down a shop that had a few richly-decorated makeches stumbling around a little cage. I held one briefly. They’re quite large and powerful, and I couldn’t imagine it crawling around my chest all day, even if it were my lost beloved.

Location of the Mercado de Artesanias

Travel Health Insurance For Your Yucatan Trip

The Yucatan Makech
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February 3, 2014 at 6:01 pm Comments (3)

The Casa-Museo Montes Molina

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Most of the mansions along the Paseo Montejo have either fallen into a state of disrepair or been converted into banks. But the Casa Montes Molina is a fortunate exception. Owned by the Montes-Molina family for generations, visitors can today tour this amazing house, or even rent it out for special events.

Casa-Museo Montes Molina

The mansion was built in the early twentieth century by Don Aurelio Portuondo, a Cuban businessman who fell in love with a local beauty. Don Aurelio was in Mérida supervising construction of the Peon Contreras Opera House, and was so pleased with the results that he hired the same architects to design his home. After a couple decades, when his fortune had dried up, Don Aurelio sold his mansion to Don Avelino Montes, a Spanish banker who had also fallen for one of Mérida’s young lovelies: Maria Molina Figueroa. (One of the city’s prime products seems to have been its marriageable maidens).

The Montes-Molinas moved in, made some additions to the house, and established themselves permanently on the Paseo Montejo. Today, nearly a hundred years later, the family still owns the property. The furniture is all original, with exquisite chandeliers, mirrors, floor tiling and everything else you might expect inside the mansion of a fantastically wealthy twentieth-century family. The great-granddaughter of Don Avelino and Doña Maria stays here when visiting from Mexico City and, incredibly, a couple servants who waited on the family over thirty years ago are still living in the basement.

During our tour of the house, we saw one of these women scrubbing the linens by hand in a washing basin. The scene fit so perfectly with the spirit of the house, we weren’t even surprised. This place is as authentic as you can get. We’ve been to quite a few historic homes during our travels, but never sensed the spirits of those who actually inhabited them so strongly as in the Casa Montes Molina. The personal items, such as toys and old LPs on the shelves, really bring the place to life.

If you have a chance, make sure to stop by. There are a limited number of tours every day, and just a couple in English, so it’s worth calling in advance to check on times.

Location on our Map
Casa Museo Montes-Molina – Website

Great Hotels In Merida

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January 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm Comments (0)

The Corners of Mérida

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When founding cities around the Yucatán, the Spanish were nothing if not organized. Mérida’s streets are laid out on a perfectly square grid, with a naming convention that is logical almost to a fault. North-south streets have even numbers which increase as you head west, while east-west streets are odd numbers which increas as you head south. So the street to the east of Calle 54 is Calle 52. If you’re on 44/73, and go one block north then one block west, you’ll be on 42/71.

Street Corners Merida

The numbering system makes navigation and orientation easy. I could instantly calculate that 47/60 was thirteen blocks north and eight blocks west of our house. But it’s awfully dry, and potentially confusing to those not good with numbers. That’s why almost every corner in Mérida also has a special name, commemorated by a red and white plaque. The corner of 48 and 73 is the Castle. 60/63 is the Duchess. 50/69 is the Iguana. 59/68 is the Cowboy.

Especially in the past, these names were how people knew their way around Mérida. Asking for 59/64 might earn you confused looks, but anyone could give you directions to El Tigre. The names are evocative, hinting at a story or legend. On the corner of El Imposible (65/50), for example, a large mound was hampering further development and slated for removal. Locals believed it to be a permanent part of the landscape that would prove impossible to destroy. But then the Spanish leveled the ground, accomplishing “the impossible”, and giving this corner its new name.

Or take the corner of 57/66, where a tall beauty from Cuba had moved into town, inflaming the passion of every man in the neighborhood. The local women didn’t take to kindly to their new competition, and referred to her as “La Tucha de Cuba“… “Tucha” being a Mayan word for “Monkey”. Henceforth, the corner has been known as La Tucha.

Som of the corners have plaques explaining their names, but many more of these stories have been lost to time. I couldn’t find anyone who could explain why the corner of 63/44 is called El Globo (Hot Air Balloon), not even the people who worked in the shop on whose wall the plaque was hung. But a hot air balloon, here in the center of the city? It must have been quite a story.

The tourism board of Mérida should bring out a guidebook to the city’s corners; a walking tour that brings you from plaque to plaque, and relates the origins behind the intriguing names. As it stands, your imagination is left to do a lot of work. That’s alright, too; finding and photographing these plaques can still make for an enjoyable day out, even if the stories behind names like “The Sun” (at 59/70) and “The Stork” (53/62) remain shrouded in mystery.

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Street Corners Merida
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January 29, 2014 at 12:14 am Comment (1)

The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya

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The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, found on the nothern outskirts of Mérida, is one of the Yucatán’s largest and most popular new museums. From the glories of the past right up into the modern day, the museum takes visitors on a comprehensive journey through the history of the Yucatán’s original inhabitants.

El Mundo Maya Museum

Aimed to coincide with the famous Maya doomsday prophecies, the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya opened on December 21st, 2012. Not exactly the best timing… why open a museum about the Maya on the same day that worldwide interest in them was set to evaporate? But it doesn’t seem to have mattered, because the place was packed when we visited on a Saturday afternoon, despite the high ticket price and an inconvenient location outside the city.

The museum begins with an exhibition about the living Maya, instead of delving right into their illustrious history. I appreciated this; the word “Maya” conjures almost exclusively the images of an ancient race, but this is very much a modern-day people. By starting with their contemporary faces and an explanation of their current situation, the museum doesn’t allow you to forget that.

With the size of the crowd, it was difficult to experience everything the museum has to offer… the interactive exhibits, such as mapping your birthday to Maya astrology or learning how to count with their vigesimal numeric system, had long lines behind them. And it’s no fun to read detailed accounts of archaeological finds, when the impatient people waiting behind you are sighing.

So we didn’t stay as long as we would have liked, and were rather agitated by the time we left. The lesson, though, isn’t to avoid the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, but to choose a weekday, when the number of other visitors will be manageable. This is the kind of place which warrants at least a couple hours of your time.

Location on our Map

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January 23, 2014 at 7:24 pm Comment (1)

La Música Yucateca

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One of the Yucatán’s defining characteristics is its love of music. From the daily free concerts in the plazas around Mérida, to the Mexican pop blasting out of every tiny shop and the kids walking around with their smartphones on speaker-mode, music is an inescapable fact of life. So we weren’t surprised to find a museum dedicated to Yucatecan music, right in the center of town.

La Música Yucateca

Found near the Plaza de La Mejorada, the Museo de la Canción Yucateca takes visitors on a tour of the peninsula’s musical history. The first room introduces ancient Maya instruments, but the exhibits quickly veer into celebrating the twentieth century artists responsible for bringing a golden age of Yucatecan music. For people such as ourselves, without any prior knowledge of the subject matter, reading the backgrounds of people we’d never heard of wasn’t terribly absorbing. It would be like visiting Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame without knowing Elvis Presley from Little Richard.

We were so quickly finished with the museum that we startled the lady from whom we’d bought tickets. The building and its courtyard are beautiful and the entrance price minimal, so it was a pleasant visit, but not an experience we were thrilled about. However, that didn’t stop us from making a return trip two days later. On a balmy Friday night, the museum was putting on a concert paying homage to the some of the peninsula’s greatest artists.

Now this was the kind of introduction I could get behind. For an hour, the talented lads of El Trio Ensueño took us through a musical crash course of the Yucatán’s most popular artists. Cirilo Baqueiro, Manuel Merodio, Guty Cárdenas … I’ll admit that I’m just copying these names from the program, but I really did love the music. Personal favorites included “Si tu no estás aquí” by Sergio Esquivel and Armando Manzanero’s “Somos novios”, the latter of which might be recognized by fans of Perry Como.

In 1971, Perry Como released an English-language version of “Somos novios” called “It’s Impossible”. Naturally, Mr. Manzanero’s permission hadn’t been sought, nor was he offered any compensation. Como and his studio simply translated the song into English, turned it into a massive hit, and even picked up a Grammy for their troubles. It was as open-and-shut a case of copyright theft as has ever existed, but a shameless US court ruled against the Mexican.

Now that I know some of the songs and artists, I’d probably be more receptive to the exhibits inside the Museo de la Canción Yucateca. But regardless of your knowledge of the peninsula’s music, don’t miss out if you happen to be in Mérida while the museum is putting on a show. You don’t need to know the names of the songs to enjoy their rhythms.

Location on our Map

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January 23, 2014 at 5:57 pm Comments (0)

MACAY – Mérida’s Contemporary Art Museum

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Next to the cathedral and inside one of the city’s most historic buildings, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Ateneo de Yucatán (MACAY) offers a great place to escape the sweltering heat of the sun and take in some thought-provoking modern art. During our visit, we were almost as impressed by the fabulous air-conditioning as by the bizarre pieces hanging on the walls.

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The museum is totally free to visit, so even if contemporary art isn’t your thing, there’s no reason not to take a quick tour. This building was constructed in 1573 as an ateneo, or private cultural institution, on the orders of the Bishop Diego de Landa. Perhaps he was still feeling a tinge of guilt for having destroyed every Maya codex, book and idol he could get his hands on during 1562’s notorious auto-da-fé in Maní. Regardless, the ateneo is a striking building, and has found a perfect modern purpose as home to the MACAY.

The exhibition begins on the upper floor in a series of rooms organized around a courtyard. Most of the rooms are dedicated to temporary collections, focusing mostly on contemporary Mexican artists, though there are a couple permanent exhibitions. One features the work of Mérida’s own Fernando Castro Pacheco, one of Mexico’s greatest muralists. We had already been impressed by his work in the nearby Palacio del Gobierno, and were happy to see more.

A tour through the museum can take about an hour, depending on your tolerance for contemporary art. For me, it was a mixed bag; some of the exhibitions were truly fantastic, while others inspired “what a load of rubbish”-type sentiments. But still, I was disappointed when, after walking through the sculpture garden, our tour had come to its conclusion. The MACAY is quiet, cool and interesting, and spending time there is a pleasure.

Location on our Map

Framed Photos From The Yucatan

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January 14, 2014 at 12:35 am Comments (0)

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Our Favorite Restaurants in Mrida During our 91 days in the Yucatán, we spent a lot of time on the road. So whenever we were in Mérida, we tried to cook healthy meals and eat at home. Too many Mexican restaurants turn Mike and Jürgen into pudgy boys. Despite our best efforts, though, we couldn't resist visiting a good percentage of Mérida's eating establishments. Here are some of our favorites; not necessarily the city's "top-rated" restaurants, but for one reason or another, the ones we most enjoyed.
For 91 Days